Why I Teach…In a Minute-and-a-Half
Over the past year, I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet with teachers, administrators, students and community members across our state. I have also had the chance to deliver a number of speeches on topics and issues that are important to me. The speeches include a collection of personal experiences and people I have encountered during my journey as an educator to help explain, advocate, and challenge.
Recently, I was asked to prepare a minute-and-a half speech about why I teach for a digital film produced by the Pearson Foundation. A minute-and-a half? How do you coalesce all your thoughts and reasons about a life-long commitment to our profession in a minute-and-a-half?
My dad once told me about a judge who said to an attorney in court “What’s the matter, didn’t you have enough time to write a shorter brief?” As we all know, it is often hard to say something in a concise, precise way. It can be difficult to get to the heart of an issue quickly. It is also a challenge to edit down a longer essay or speech to its essence. Cutting sentences or paragraphs you have lived with for a while is kind of like saying goodbye to an old trusted friend.
The following is my condensed, concentrated, and compact minute-and-a-half speech. It is missing some of my favorite classroom episodes and some of my suggestions for improving student performance. But it does answer the question about why I teach. Let me know what you think; and maybe let me know why you teach . . . in a minute-and-a-half.
Today, over 14 million American children live in poverty; and
A child living in poverty has less than a 10% chance of attending college.
We have an obligation to every one of these students . . . and that is why I teach.
We live in a society that is founded on the ideal of equal opportunity for all. Yet this principle is not a reality for far too many students. All too often, society embraces the senseless stereotype that minority and poor students do not have the initiative or ability to compete academically with students living in more-privileged communities.
However, what I have experienced in my classroom is just the opposite. I teach at a school where 100% of our students live below the poverty line and will be the first in their families to graduate from college. They often are the first to graduate from high school.
Yet, in my classroom, I see the thirst for knowledge, the eagerness to excel. It is a passion that may be greatest in communities that need it the most, where the rugged road is most difficult to travel.
I found that passion two summers ago, as a teacher, in a dirt-floor village classroom in Malawi, Africa – where my students walked miles for a chance to be the first in their family to learn to read.
And I find the same passion each day in my classroom in San Diego –where my students travel on buses and border trolleys, some for an hour or more each way, to learn about the world beyond their neglected neighborhoods.
Most of my students’ parents do not know how to navigate our nation’s complex educational system; but they know the singular importance of education. And so they entrust me to engage and inspire their children to grow, learn, and change the world.
Ultimately, I teach because of students like A., a member of my Advisory class for 7 years. Living in a homeless shelter, and with nowhere to go, A. also attended the daily after-school tutorial program I organized.
On the eve of being the first in his family to graduate from high school, and with a full academic scholarship to college, A. handed me a note that said: “I have appreciated all you have done for me. You helped me survive my classes, hundreds of assignments, and many stressful days. You are always there encouraging me to succeed and do better. You lift me up when I am down. You are my guardian angel.”
My parents wanted me to be a lawyer. I prefer being a teacher…and someone’s guardian angel.